PNC Bank has pledged to “act immediately” to address the concerns of tenants at an affordable housing complex it owns in McKeesport, following a PublicSource and WESA survey revealed health and safety issues. The promise came as elected officials called for swift improvements to two ailing bank properties that are home to some 200 low-income households.
“The PNC is responsible for ensuring that its tenants have decent living conditions,” Congressman Mike Doyle, a Democrat whose district includes McKeesport, said in a statement to WESA and PublicSource. “… And what has been described does not seem to come close to this standard. “
Doyle continued, “I expect this situation to be rectified immediately – and PNC to move quickly on its larger reinvestment plans.”
PublicSource and WESA reported that PNC in 2018 purchased two limited liability companies that own the 11-story Midtown Plaza and the five Hi View Gardens buildings. The properties are a few blocks away and close to McKeesport’s Lysle Boulevard. Under PNC ownership, they were managed by Maine-based Preservation Management Inc., which did not respond to requests for comment.
Richard Bynum, PNC’s director of corporate responsibility, told WESA and PublicSource that the bank has “made major investments over many years in Pittsburgh and through our footprint, particularly to improve income communities. low and moderate, so this situation is particularly disheartening and completely unacceptable. “He added that” the issues we have recently learned about at Hi View Gardens do not reflect this commitment or the values of PNC. “
PublicSource and WESA reported that:
- In 2019, the PNC and its development partners requested $ 11.4 million in social housing tax credits to improve Hi View, but the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency denied the request.
- Hi View and Midtown 911 calls increased 46% in 2019 and 2020 from the previous two years, including even larger increases in harassment or threats, drugs, and firearm and weapon incidents.
- At the same time, housing health code violations – which include lack of heat in winter, pest infestations, mold and leaks – in Hi View and Midtown increased 49% from previous years. , to the point where last year they accounted for 42% of all such violations in McKeesport.
The 42% figure is “a huge number. I think this needs to be corrected immediately, ”State Representative Austin Davis D-McKeesport said as he was interviewed on Thursday in front of Hi View. “Then we need to discuss the long term plan for this housing complex, how we maintain affordable housing here, how we make sure that these residents live in a good quality environment but have the opportunity to stay here. “
Davis added that he spoke to PNC officials shortly after reading the WESA and PublicSource articles, calling it a “very productive conversation.”
PNC was “deeply disappointed to learn of the issues tenants are facing at Hi View Gardens,” Bynum said, in a written statement in response to reports from PublicSource and WESA. “The conditions as reported are unacceptable. Although PNC does not manage the property, we are taking immediate action to ensure tenant concerns are addressed.
PNC officials including Bynum plan to meet with members of the Hi View Gardens tenant council and lawyer from the non-profit Community Justice Project [CJP] this week. The CJP represents the council, which was formed in May. “We will potentially hold discussions with a larger group of residents as well,” said Bynum.
He reiterated PNC’s earlier statement to PublicSource and WESA: that the bank is committed to buy affordable housing in many communities and preserve rent protection, rather than having others buy it and raise rents at market rates.
PNC told WESA and PublicSource that the bank is seeking nonprofit development partners to submit new tax credit claims to renovate the two properties. PNC executive vice president of tax credit solutions Todd Crow said the bank plans to seek this federal help for Hi View this year and for Midtown next year, although that timeline may be slowed down as one of the buildings in Hi View is under repair for fire damage.
“I am delighted that the PNC is working to preserve affordable housing in Allegheny County, but I am deeply concerned about the condition of housing in Hi View Gardens and the length of time these conditions have been allowed,” said said Doyle, in his statement.
Bynum said the COVID-19 pandemic has made apartment maintenance more difficult by reducing maintenance staff’s access to apartments and disrupting the availability of materials and equipment, adding that “some things have improved “Recently and PNC is” fully committed to accelerating the pace of improvements and improvements to the levels of service that residents receive.
Allegheny County Councilor Bob Macey, a Democrat whose district includes McKeesport, said he was “tired of people using the pandemic as an excuse.” It didn’t hurt Walmart. It didn’t hurt Amazon, ”and it didn’t stop the city councilor from improving his own home. “So I think that’s a bad excuse. And that’s what they are – excuses.
Macey said he and other elected officials should “step foot on the PNC” if necessary. “I think it’s atrocious that a multi-billion dollar corporation allows people to go through this kind of situation.”
PNC is the seventh largest commercial bank in the country and, earlier this year, it held $ 469 billion in assets, according to the Federal Reserve Board.
Allegheny County Executive Office Rich Fitzgerald did not respond to requests for comment.
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said after PNC bought Hi View and Midtown, bank officials sat down with him in his office and pledged to improve properties. He said he was optimistic because the bank “has the means, the money, to improve these living conditions for our residents. But that was not the case. “
Earlier this year, the city ordered the management of Hi View to repair the faulty fire alarm system at this complex. The mayor called the conditions described in the WESA and PublicSource articles “disgraceful.”
Cherepko said the city would be happy to meet with PNC officials, expose the issues on the properties and help implement solutions.
“I understand that you are not going to fix everything immediately, but there are things that need to be fixed,” he said. “And we’re not talking about small bandages, but big bandages.”
Davis said reports on Hi View and Midtown prompted him to ask staff on the House Urban Affairs Committee if there were any policy measures the state can consider to address housing quality issues in the city. low rent. He added that he was wondering if the Allegheny County Housing Authority could take over the management of Hi View and Midtown.
The state official added that he – like many others at McKeesport – did not know PNC owned the properties until he learned about it from last week’s report. “I know for me the ownership factor was huge,” he said, “and now being able to know who the owner is gives me someone to hold accountable for what’s going on here.”
Kate Giammarise is a reporter covering the impact of COVID-19 on the economy for WESA, and can be reached at [email protected] or 412-697-2953.
This content was produced with the support of the Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship, awarded by the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.